An Interview With America’s Toughest Sheriff, Joe Arpaio
America’s toughest Sheriff, Joe Arpaio, made a name for himself by forcing inmates to wear pink underwear and work on chain gangs.
Since Obama got into office, Arpaio has become a target of the White House and pro-illegal immigration members of Congress because his deputies actually enforce the immigration laws of the state of Arizona.
I caught up with “Sheriff Joe” on Tuesday for an interview. What follows is a slightly edited transcript of our discussion. Enjoy!
I think the thing you’re most famous for, at least the way you caught peoples attention to begin with, was the pink underwear you had for inmates. Can you talk a little bit about how and why that came into being?
Well, they were stealing the white underwear and smuggling the underwear out of the jail when they were being discharged. You’d look under their belt and you’ll see a pair of white underwear, but since everybody wears white, they would put on two or three pairs. So, I decided to change the color to pink because nobody wore pink — but everybody’s wearing pink now because we sell the underwear to raise money for my volunteer posse. So that’s the official reason. The other reason is they hate pink, at least in this county, and I don’t believe in giving prisoners things they like.
Now, Joe, I asked people on Facebook if they had any questions for you and the funniest reply I got was, “Yes, how do we clone him for the other 3,140 counties?” But it brings up an interesting question: You’re the best known sheriff in America and you’ve won re-election again and again by double digits since 1996. So obviously, the people in your county appreciate what you’re doing. Why aren’t there more sheriffs copying you around the country?
Every sheriff has: their own constituency and I don’t butt in on their business. I’m the sheriff for Maricopa County. We have about four million people that we know of that live in this county, so I do my thing, they can do their thing, and I’m not going to question why they don’t enforce illegal immigration laws or put up tents or anything else.
Now there are some claims that despite the tough treatment you give prisoners, the recidivism rate isn’t any better than it was since you took over. What do you say to that?
I don’t know where you got that. There was a professor that I wasted 10-20 thousand on, who did a survey about 15 years ago on recidivism. So, he told me things that I already know, like prisoners hate the bologna sandwich, they hate the pink underwear, and they hate the 140 degree tents. I didn’t need him to tell me that.
…Recidivism does occur, but we do have a great drug prevention education program. We graduated five thousand men and women and I tracked those people to see if they reoffend. Only about 15 percent come back, but normally around the nation, probably including here, too, I don’t have a figure on it, maybe 50, 60 percent do come back.
Now, the perception out there is that the Obama Administration is going after you not because you’re doing anything wrong, but because you’re actually enforcing the law in regard to illegal immigration. Would you agree with that assessment?
I spent 25 years with the United States government, the majority under the U.S. Justice Department. I was the Regional Director in Mexico for the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Administration, also in Turkey, Texas — all over the country in different posts of duty. It’s sad. I dedicated my whole life to federal agencies all over the world, risk my life so I can go on here as the elected constitutional sheriff going on 19 years.
Because I took on illegal immigration by enforcing the new state laws and also we did such a great job that Washington swore in trained a: hundred of my deputy sheriffs to go after illegal immigrants…..here it is that under the Obama Administration, it took them only 60 days to send nine investigators out to investigate me in my office for so called racial profiling.
…They ask for me to be investigated and they only took 60 days. We have wars going on, economic problems — why would they only take 60 days to go after me? I guess they sent in a 100 day report on their biggest accomplishment and why was I the biggest accomplishment of the Justice Department? But, you know what? I keep doing my job. We’ve investigated, arrested, and detained over 37,000 illegal aliens. We’re the only ones enforcing that state human smuggling law and we’re the only ones going into the work place on the employer sanctions.
They don’t like the crime suppression and some mayors don’t like me coming into their territory, which happens to be my territory, because I’m the sheriff for every inch of this county…If we come across any illegal aliens we pursue, we arrest them, book them into the jail or turn those that we can’t prove of any other crime over to ICE.
It’s sad when a guy is trying to do his job, with all the problems we have at the border, all the drug problems, all the illegal immigration problems, all the violence connected with illegal immigration every day here in Maricopa County — and yet I’m the bad guy.
Now let me ask you: What’s your answer to logic used about illegal aliens in other parts of the country? What you always hear is, “Well if we arrest them, they’ll be afraid to come to the police if they’re victimized or have information about a crime.” What do what do you say to that argument?
I don’t buy it. It’s a cop out. There are many excuses people give why we shouldn’t arrest those that come into our country illegally — which, by the way, happens to be a violation. Just crossing a border coming into our area — I guess you do know that…
Just coming across, they have violated the law. We just grabbed 40 more illegals in a drop house, but guess who gave us the information about all those hostages? It was an illegal. We get information all the time from illegal aliens to solve crimes. So, I don’t buy this idea that nobody will talk to the cops.
Last question, Joe. There’s a pretty good crop of Republican candidates running for governor and you’re also considering a run. If you ran for governor, I think you’d be one of the few Republicans running for governor in the country who could draw a lot of national support. So, when are we going to know if you’re going to take a run at it?
I’ve looked at this the four last elections for sheriff. Nobody takes me seriously anymore because every time I have the big press conference, they go away when I say “no,” but if I do it, it has to be now. I work 14 hours a day, but I’m 77… My polls are high and the money is easy. I’ve raised, in just 12 months for sheriff, three years from now, I’ve raised $2 million. So money is no issue. All these candidates put together haven’t raised that money, so I can get the resources and I got the name ID. It’s time to do it now or don’t do it at all.
The only problem I have is if I do run, I have to resign my office. Then this Board of Supervisors…will appoint the sheriff and since I’m investigating them, I’m sure they won’t appoint someone like me. So I would have to give up this office to them and I don’t know if I want to do that. So, I have to make a big decision and within two months. I’ll make that decision like I have done in the past.
It’s very nice to know that people want me to run for governor and I don’t want to be egotistical — I mean they may be joking, but they’re really not joking when they wish I would run for president. Now if I lived my life over again, I would do the same things I’ve done all over the world. But maybe, I would have done one thing differently. Maybe I should have run for governor several years ago because believe it or not, that’s a launching pad for President. Most of our…Presidents come from governorships. So when you look at your life and say, “Wait a minute, maybe I should have done that?”
But anyway, I’m happy being the sheriff and I’ll keep doing my job. I’ll make that decision about running for governor and if not, I’m definitely running for sheriff in 2012. So all those critics, demonstrators, and some politicians have fun because I’m going to be around if I decide not to run for governor.
Joe, outstanding, I really appreciate your time.
If you’d like to learn more about Joe Arpaio, head over the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office website.